Chapter XVI. The Great Football Game
 

The halves were to be of twenty minutes each, so no time was lost in putting the leather into the field. It was Putnam's kick-off, and on the instant the ball went sailing into the air, to land well into Pornell's territory. Then came a grand rush, and before the words can be put down twenty-two lads were at it nip-and-tuck to get possession of the sphere.

"It's Pornell's ball!"

"Say, but ain't this going to be a snappy game!"

"Our fellows have the ball!"

"There she goes up five yards into Putnam ground!"

"Carry that ball back!" yelled Dick excitedly. "Don't let them gain an inch!"

"Whoop her up for Pornell!"

And then came a wild blare of tin horns and a waving of the academy colors, brown and white. The waving of the Hall colors, an American flag set in a border of green, came also, with an equal din from horns and wooden clappers.

"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!"

So, the game went on for ten minutes, and the Pornellites had gained exactly twenty-five yards -- no more.

"Looks like a stand-off," said several. "Say, maybe those young soldiers aren't game!"

"That's what -- but we'll wax 'em!" was the answer, and then of a sudden came another yell, for Pornell had the ball and was pushing it straight ahead for Putnam's goal.

"Ten yards!"

"Five yards more!"

"Fifteen yards more!"

"Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!"

Toot! toot-a-root-toot! Clack-clack-clack, bang!

The Pornellites were now wild, but they stared blankly as they saw plucky Tom Rover snatch the leather up and run back twenty yards with it.

"He's going right through with it!"

"There goes Hardy after him!"

"Down they go!"

"Lushear has the ball! It's going back!"

"Run, Lushear, run! A dollar if you make it!"

"They can't catch him! Oh, pshaw! Down he goes!"

"But the ball is safe! A touchdown! Hurrah!"

The cry was correct. Just three minutes before the end of the first half the Pornell team scored a touchdown. Instantly preparations were made to kick a goal if possible. But the kick was a failure, and the two sides retired for the half with the score standing 4 to 0 in Pornell Academy's favor.

Glumly the Hall boys retired to their dressing room, there to be rubbed down by their chums. "It's too bad, it certainly is," came from a dozen sympathizers.

"But it can't be helped. Don't give up yet."

"They are too heavy for us in mass play," said Sam. "We must try more running away with the leather." And so it was agreed.

Soon the gong rang, and they re-entered the field.

"Now, Putnam Hall, do your best! We are looking at you!"

"They can't play a little bit," sneered Dan Baxter. "I'm ashamed of them," and he smiled to himself, thinking the fifty dollars put up on the game was already as good as won.

Sam had given his team some explicit instructions, and these were now being followed. As soon as the ball came into Putnam's possession there was a run on their part that carried the sphere twenty yards into their opponents territory.

"Go in and win, Putnam!"

"That's the way to do it!"

"Take it from them, Pornell! Go for it! Take it!"

And Pornell did take it, and half the distance gained was lost.

Both teams were now warmed up, and for fully five minutes the ball flew back and forth, remaining at the end of that time almost in the center of the gridiron.

Then Pornell tried some heavy mass play, but lost the leather on a fumble, and it came into Tom Rover's possession.

Away flew Tom, as though a legion of demons were after him, straight for Pornell's goal. The crowd began to shout itself hoarse.

"See Tom Rover! Go it, Tom, old boy, go it!"

"He can't carry it through! See, Conkey and Largren are after him!"

"There he goes down! Conkey has the leather!"

This was true, but ere Conkey could start to run Fred Garrison brought him to earth and the ball rolled out into the field.

Sam and a Pornell halfback made a rush for it.

"My ball!" yelled the Pornellite, who was twenty pounds heavier than the little captain.

"Not today!" retorted Sam, and snatched it from under his very feet. Before the Pornellite could recover from his astonishment, Sam was pelting up the field with all the nimbleness of his agile legs.

"Hurrah for Sam Rover!"

"Great Caesar! see him leg it! They can't catch him!"

"There he goes over the line!"

"A touchdown! The game is a tie!"

"Quick, fellows!" cried Sam. "Only five more minutes, remember. Who is to kick?"

It was a player named Larcom. But Larcom was not equal to it, for the wind was rising and blowing in several directions at once.

"No goal! The game is a tie!"

"Put the ball out again!"

"Only four minutes to play!"

Again the football went forth, and again the crowd pounced upon it. The Pornellites were now desperate and massed themselves as never before. They pushed forward ten yards - fifteen - twenty -- almost thirty. It looked as if they would score another touchdown, if not kick a goal. But now Sam Rover sent a certain sign to his players. It was taking a risk, but it was worth trying.

The ball came over to the right of the field and spun like lightning to the left. Fred caught it up, ran ten yards, and passed it to Larry Colby, who turned it over to Tom. Away it went to Sam, and then to Frank. The Pornellites were bewildered. Where was the ball?"

"Putnam has it!"

"There she goes! Hurrah for Frank Harrington. Another touchdown!"

It was true. Putnam Hall had scored another touchdown. A tremendous yelling and cheering broke out, in the midst of which the gong sounded. The game was over, and our boys had won the victory.

In a twinkle the gridiron was covered with swarming students, and Sam and his fellow players were hoisted up on willing shoulders, to be trotted around the oval. "Hurrah for Pornell!" they shouted. "Hurrah for Putnam!" came back the cry. It had been a bitter but friendly contest, and victors and vanquished shook hands over and over again.

Of course many students of Pornell were bitterly disappointed, but no one felt so sour over the whole afternoon's doing as did Dan Baxter. In all he had lost over fifty dollars, and now neither his fellow students nor the boys of Pornell Academy wanted anything to do with him. "I haven't any use for a chap who bets against his own crowd," was the comment of one academy student, and he voiced the sentiment of all. Only Mumps stuck to his chum, and the two, soon left the grounds together.

By four o'clock the cadets were on their way back to Putnam Hall, the carriages moving behind the two companies of young soldiers, who sang and shouted themselves hoarse as they moved along. Even Captain Putnam entered into the spirit of the affair. "Brings me back to the days when I was a cadet myself," he said to George Strong.

Directly after supper a huge bonfire was lit on the playground, and the students were allowed to have their own fun until eleven o'clock. The football team was, of course, the center of attraction, and Sam and Tom came in for their full share of honors.

While the festivities of this Thanksgiving Eve were at their height, a sudden thought struck Dick. Captain Putnam had given the cadets permission to go beyond bounds if any cared to do so, and he hurried away, his intention being to call upon Dora Stanhope and see how she was faring. Although Dick would not admit it, he thought a great deal of Dora, and he was sorry, that she was in danger of having the detestable Josiah Crabtree for a stepfather.

It was a clear, moonlight night, and he hurried off in the best of spirits, taking a short cut by way of a road through the woods. As he walked along he remembered how Tom had met in this vicinity the thief who had stolen the watch.

"I wonder if I'll meet him," he thought, but no tramp put in an appearance; indeed, he did not see a soul until the Stanhope homestead was reached.

A light was burning brightly in the sitting room, and the curtains were drawn down to within six inches of the bottom of the windows. Dick was about to ascend the porch, when he changed his mind and walked softly to one of the windows.

"If they have a lot of company I won't disturb them on a holiday like this," he thought, and peeped under one of the curtains.

The sight that met his gaze filled him with astonishment and indignation. Only two persons were present, Dora and Josiah Crabtree. Crabtree had the girl by the left wrist, and had one hand raised as if to strike his prisoner.